We all know that most lists of the best free-to-play games that got their in-app purchases done right begin and end with Hearthstone, Crossy Road, Clash of Clans and a couple of other well-known titles. Some throw in Threes the freemium version, others honor World of Tanks Blitz, and they should. My point is these games are obvious suggestions, but they are only the tip of the iceberg. The shift of the market freemium-wise has given rise to a whole plethora of beautiful games that are accessible to larger audiences.
Yes, many people just ignore the freemium titles because way too many games abuse the system with obnoxious practices. However, you may miss out on a bunch of really good games that let you play without paying, or pay once for a significant boost, to remove ads or to unlock the premium content. We have made a relatively short list of the games we played within the past 12 months or so. Hence, mind that these are not the games of all times, but we tried to include many genres, AAA and indie. We reviewed most of these games, so if you are interested in a more detailed overview of the features and virtues, follow the review links. Without further ado, here they are.
PAC-MAN 256 – Endless Maze
An awesome 3D Crossy Road-style tribute to the titular Pac-Man, created by the Crossy Road developer under Namco’s umbrella. It is a hard, perfectly addicting Pac-Man game with a little deviation from the original. Namely, you have to ascend an endless grid, instead of digging one and the same map. There is a significant expansion of the ghost baddies, and you will have to adjust your tactics on the go. The 256 glitch happens when you reach the 256 points in the game, which is not that impossible to achieve. The IAP system is based mainly on power-ups. You can play for free without them, but then it’s you and your quick fingers against the grid. If you wish to use the power-ups, you have to pay one credit; you also pay one credit to revive once you die. You are given 6 credits by default, and they regenerate at the rate of one credit per 10 minutes. You also have the optional video ads to get the credits. The ultimate $7 purchase gives you unlimited credits for life. The bottom line is – you may or may not want to cash out $7 on a Pac-Man game, although it is a worthy one for the right person, but you can just as well play for free without paying. The short gameplay sessions and relatively quickly regenerating lives result in a gorgeous, snackable Pac-Man game that will have you scream and swear, or jump with joy.
A spectacular RPG set in a fantasy world launched just a few weeks before Star War Uprising and in many aspects, I enjoyed Angel Stone more than the Uprising. Fandom aside, Angel Stone looks way better, and is interesting to play despite its story and characters not having the backing of a decades old movie franchise. You create heroes by choosing between the classic four classes, customize them and battle it out across the multitude of levels and maps, each looking better than the previous one. The upgrade system is quite reasonable and the grinding is moderate, and most importantly, we have not bumped into a paywall. The game does have multiple in-game currencies, like gold, ore, stamina and gems, and Angel Stone is a generous giver when you play regularly. You use gold to upgrade items and level up your hero; you use stamina to enter battles; gems to buy stamina or gold; ore to level up your ammo. What matters here is to figure out a specific skill stone and upgrade just that, instead of upgrading all your skill stones, wasting gold. Once you’ve got that figured out, you can balance your in-game finances and enjoy the steady upgrades. I dislike comparing games, but I can’t help thinking how Angel Stone got right some of the things that may annoy about the Uprising, for one the upgrade-it-all requirement of the latter. Overall, Angel Stone is a very well put together classic RPG with gorgeous looks. Try it.
Farms & Castles
Match-three puzzles must be one of the genres most heavily loaded with all the “perks” of the freemium model. I want to love the Best Fiends and the King of Thieves, but the lives system makes it a tough love if you play long enough to hit the hard levels. Farms & Castles is a breath of fresh air for this crowded niche, and a good-looking one, if you ask. You have three maps where you can build the said farms and castles by matching three or more elements. The matching is atypical – the objects you blend do not disappear, but blend into a higher-tier element, which in its turn when mixed with two or more other identical elements create an even higher tier element. So, three bushes build a tree, three trees – a small farm, three small farms – a bigger farm and so on. It’s quite difficult and refreshing, with very neat design and a fair IAP system. As you play, you generate goods (for building trees and farms) and gold (for building rocks and castles). You can buy the elements you need in the Shop in exchange for the goods, or you can buy the Magic Orbs for gold. The orbs have three special abilities, like destroying a structure or converting it. The game also lets you watch a video ad and rewards you with free 60 goods, and you can repeat the procedure 5 times straight when in a critical situation. Overall, however, the IAPs in this particular case feel very liberal, and the main challenge is to succeed in the game the way it is, without “booster cheats.” It’s a good time killer, try it.
Gltch is an acid Tron-like take on Pac-Man. Yes, we have had a Pac-Man season here on mobile. It’s dazzling in its style and it’s annoyingly difficult in its gameplay. The point of the game is to get as high a score as you can despite the glitches you unlock as you play. Hence, the difficulty. However, do not fear the life-based system of it – it’s quite liberal and digestible. In fact, you can play pretty much all you want without facing the paywall. The game gives you 35 lives for free, which is enough for a lengthy play session, and they regenerate at a decent rate of 10 lives per 10 minutes. Completing mini missions also grants you lives, and you can watch an ad to get them for free, too. In the end, you can play without running out of lives altogether. Finally, if you want to encourage the indie dev to make more games, you can buy some for $0.99 – the IAPs are never intrusive here.
Skiing Yeti Mountain
Whenever you get a premium quality game for free and can play it all you want, the trade off of getting an occasional, non-intrusive and funny ad seems like a no-brainer. Skiing Yeti Mountain is a top-notch twitch game for the fans of skiing, and its one-finger control scheme makes the experience as neat and enjoyable as skiing itself. The minimalist, pixel-style artwork combined with a highly addicting gameplay perfect for short sessions are topped with a nearly invisible ad injection. Would you want to remove it for $3? You might if you want to support the indie devs, but you certainly won’t feel annoyed by it because it’s something many marketers have long forgotten of – creative.
Mountain Goat Mountain
Download from Google Play
Download from iTunes
Mountain Goat Mountain is one of my favorite games IAP-wise – it lets you unlock all the content by playing, and it’s not obnoxiously heavy grinding, but an enjoyable and addicting fun. Hop up and down a mountain, munch on juicy grass. The game offers quite a variety of unlockable goats and their respective mountains, and the best part is it won’t take long to earn the necessary 100 coins to unlock a new goat with a fancy outfit and a gorgeous environment. In addition, you can watch a video ad in exchange for a generous amount of the said coins, so unlocking the new goats is always an opportunity. And by always I mean each gameplay session; you may even unlock two or three per play. Besides, Zynga awards daily log-ins. It is surprising to see such an inviting approach from a big developer, but it’s fortunately true.
Care for a smart puzzler boasting of elegant, crisp design? Get tha pink ball from point A to point B on a grid, using a set of units to direct the ball where you need it to go. Socioball is gorgeous in its presentation; it may be a bit on the easy side in terms of the puzzles, but don’t get misled by the simplicity of the first dozen of levels. It gets quite challenging in the later levels. Besides, it lets you create puzzles of your own, using all of its units, and it also lets you share yours and play levels created by others via Twitter. It is premium on iOS and free on Android, have no idea why the discrepancy, but if you are on Android – it’s a must-try, totally not geared towards IAPs.
Groove Coaster 2
A gorgeous beat game, Groove Coaster 2 brings tons of music to your mobile. Set in a beautiful sci-fi environment, Groove Coaster has you tapping to the beat of the music on a fast, even frantic flight through the digital vortex. What this game offers as the free, unlockable content is quite a large pool of content, so you may never even wonder where the IAPs are. Not that they’re non-existent, but they’re non-intrusive, and when or if you ever exhaust the unlockable music you might want to get a mega hit pack of tracks for $4, or some other tracks pack for $5. But the IAP system in its entirety is very well put together, and the content available for free is great, providing tons of variety and replay value.
One of the high profile releases this year came from Bethesda, and even though it’s not Fallout as such, it’s the closest thing to it on mobile for now. Build an underground bunker, inhabit it with workers, assign them jobs, feed them, make them happy, expand your shelter – you get the idea. Its IAP system is very permissive, and the only thing you can buy in it is the lunchboxes that can speed things up. They contain random stuff like weapons, caps, rare dwellers with high stats, but are not imperative for a successful and enjoyable gameplay. Fallout Shelter implements one of the best IAP structures you can find among the high-end games on mobile.
Does not Commute
Why would Mediocre choose that name for their game studio, when at least two of their games are plain brilliant beats me. Does not Commute is a curious mix of puzzle and racing game, where you try to get a dozen cars from point A to point B one by one, but then they drive all together at the same time, so the play out is a hilarious scene of drunk driving, swearing and crashing. The game offers a great replay value and a decent amount of content, but the best part is you can play it all for free. The only thing available for $1.99 is the option to use checkpoints. Of course, you will get to the end of the game faster with checkpoints, but it is equally pleasant to become better at managing all the characters with their respective vehicles without that checkpoint perk. If its sounds far-fetched, try this game for yourself.
Arcanox: Cards vs. Castles
Indie, free, cute and surprisingly deep, Arcanox is a mish-mash of tower defense, tower offense, card battler and MMO, with multiple decks, expandable towers, guilds and guild tournaments, spells and assaults on thy neighbor. It offers a very generous system that awards you for playing the multiplayer, the daily tasks, for completing the missions and upgrading your stuff. The in-app purchase system is well balanced for the paying and non-paying players, which is a rarity these days. You can buy or earn rubies you need to speed up upgrades, and here is the deal. You can play versus AI, so nobody would raid your tower while you are away or while your upgrades are in process. I would strongly recommend you this tactics until you upgrade your tower to a more or less decent level, and then you can proceed to the multiplayer, thus enhancing your chances of withstanding the raids on your tower. Arcanox offers an excellent replay value and tons of fun in both single and multiplayer.
One of the best sci-fi interactive gamebooks and a thrilling adventure spiced with mind-boggling puzzles, Hyper Rift is a must-have for the fans of the genre. The best part? The game is free, ad-supported, a single IAP removes ads – all content is available for free. It’s sinister, quite challenging, at times will have you grab that pen and paper or browse for an answer. A gorgeous replay value and a beautiful artwork make it one of my favorite space horrors on mobile.
Get it from Google Play Store, Apple App Store
As I wrote about Does not Commute, it suddenly hit me that Smash Hit by the same developer is one of the best examples of a stellar mobile game in the first place, and a fair IAP system in the second. You can play it all you want, until you see the smashing glass in your sleep. The one-time IAP unlocks checkpoints. You can say playing without checkpoints is a pain, but the rewarding, nearly ecstatic sensation you get when you advance far enough all by yourself is by far better than being able to restart from a checkpoint and see the end of game in a day. On the flip side, the game is easily worth $3, so supporting the developer and buying the checkpoints for $1.99 is an excellent deal.
Genre: Arcade, Reflex, Twitch
Price: Free, ad-supported, Removes Ads for $1.99
One of my favorite twitch games is Jelly Jump by Ketchapp. Overall, Ketchapp is known for beautiful, somewhat simplistic, but addicting twitch games that are perfect for short gameplay sessions. They have a slew of these games at Ketchapp, but Jelly Jump nails it for me. The squishy sounds your jello makes when it lands on a platform, the terrifying scenes when it sinks in the black waters and the fun of unlocking new jellos is all you need for a go-to time killer. The game is free, ad-supported; one IAP removes ads. The ads are non-intrusive because they are not video ads. I haven’t had a single ad interrupt my gameplay, so it is safe to say the system is well implemented. It’s on the hard side, especially if you aim at unlocking all of the jelly characters, but if you are particularly good at twitch games you might as well crack this nut.
OST: Duet Original Soundtrack by Tim Shiel
Easily one of the best mobile games, and a twitch classic by now, Duet not only boats of gorgeous, crisp graphics and superb soundtrack, but also a fair IAP system that satisfies all strata of players. Those who fancy a premium game can unlock all the content for $3, and this game is easily worth it with the tons of levels and music, the daily challenges, bonus chapters, survival mode. On the other hand, if you can’t afford to buy it all, you can play for free without time restrictions – there are enough levels to keep you busy and coming back for more. There aren’t any other IAPs, but a few non-intrusive ads in the free version.
Developer: isTom Games
Genre: Puzzle, twitch
Price: Free, IAPs from $0.99 to $4.99
The last but not least title on today’s list is the Impossible Draw, a gem I discovered last winter. I still have its artwork as my desktop wallpaper, and occasionally play it for the music and for the sake of relaxing and setting my mind to rest. The game has you drawing the incoming symbols as you float through a digital space, enjoying the gorgeous visuals and trippy music. One of its undeniable virtues is its IAP system, which makes it one of the best from my perspective. Any content available via IAP can be also unlocked by playing, and the grinding is not tedious. You can unlock new music tracks and new themes in exchange fir bytes you earn by playing, and so that you get an idea of the grinding process – you can unlock a new music track within a single gameplay session, and a new theme within 2 sessions. Supporting the indie devs is always a noble intention, so $1 will remove ads, which are non-intrusive anyway, or you can opt for various packs of bytes for $1-$5. It’s a gorgeous game that stands right there next to Smash Hit.
Let us know which freemium games you played had a moderate and fair in-app purchase system and start a conversation in the comments below. We would love to hear your suggestions and maybe even add them to our list!